Towards a New Media Paradigm
Many believe that a paradigm shift has taken place and we now inhabit a new digital media universe. They are mistaken and not just about media, but about paradigms as well.
Today, digital accounts for roughly 15% of global media expenditure. A little bit of grade school arithmetic will reveal that leaves 85% of budgets still dedicated to traditional media. Moreover, even if present trends continue, digital won’t reach the level of TV for at least a decade or two.
However, the real failure of digital media is how little it has affected how we use traditional media. For a true paradigm shift to take place, that’s what really has to change.
A Re-Evaluation of Traditional Media
Any discussion of paradigm shifts needs to start with Thomas Kuhn, who coined the phrase and, to a large extent, developed the concept. In his interpretation, new paradigms not only supersede, but also include, earlier ones.
A discovery like that of oxygen or x-rays does not simply add one more item to the population of the scientist’s world. Ultimately, it has that effect, but not until the professional community has re-evaluated experimental procedures, altered its conception of entities with which it has long been familiar, and, in the process, shifted the network of theory through which it deals with the world.
Nobel prizewinning physicist Leon Lederman gives us a salient example in his book The God Particle. Newton’s ideas reigned for centuries until Einstein came along and then his view of the universe was usurped by quantum mechanics. However, we can derive Einstein’s equations from Dirac’s and Newton’s from Einsteins.
The point is that new paradigms only become useful when they become developed enough to include old ones. Today, we can drive on bridges (thanks to Newton), use GPS (thanks to Einstein) and listen to i-Pods (thanks to quantum mechanics). Surely, we don’t want our love of Apple’s ingenuity to collapse the Golden Gate?
In a similar vein, any new media paradigm is useless unless and until it includes the majority of media activity. We’re not there yet, not even close.
The Internet and The Web
One of the most important distinctions to make going forward is the difference between the Internet and the Web. Put simply, the Internet is a patchwork of infrastructure and protocols that moves data around the world. The Web, on the other hand, not only creates a universal medium to share content, it connects everything all through hyperlinks.
Each poses it’s own set set of issues and challenges. For instance, the proliferation of the Internet has created security concerns. The Web, however, derives its power from sharing links to valuable information. Clearly, both objectives must be pursued simultaneously.
Lately, some serious people have been arguing that the Web is dying out in favor of specialized applications. However, it should be clear that the Web will continue to drive the Internet and both will proliferate in parallel. Any true new media paradigm needs to be deliver content without regard to device or proprietary standards.
We’ve talked about convergence for some time and we seem to be inching closer and closer technologically. However, in terms of skill sets, the media and marketing world is still incredibly gentrified and we are far from a common view about how cross media initiatives should be managed, measured and made profitable.
Social Networks and Social Media
Another point of confusion concerns social media and social networks. While much of the talk is focused solely on social media, it’s social networks that promises to create a truly new paradigm. It applies not just to the digital world, but to all facets of human experience.
In their book Connected, renowned scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler describe how social networks apply to a vast range of human behavior, from obesity to politics to economics. While we like to consider ourselves as individuals, much of what we think and do is greatly affected by our social networks (and not just our direct contacts, but up to 3 degrees of separation).
In media and marketing, we have yet to even scratch the surface of how the structure of connections affect the way we communicate and influence each other. I touched on some possibilities in this post about social network analysis and Duncan Watts’ ideas about Big Seed Marketing are interesting, but the really exciting stuff is still to come.
Tasks and Metrics
Probably the most important way digital technology is changing marketing has very little to do with media, but with metrics. As our ability to measure performance indicators and how they affect one another improves, we’ll be able to deploy resources much more efficiently.
This is a major change. For decades we were mainly concerned with awareness and market share even though the two aren’t very strongly correlated. Nevertheless, most marketing activities were undertaken as if they were. That’s been a huge oversight.
A purchase is not merely an event, but a process. Awareness is only valuable if it converts into sales. In the same vein, if market share doesn’t lead to consumer advocacy, performance is sure to suffer. Resources can’t be deployed equally everywhere, so metrics, especially ROI metrics, need to be focused on marketing tasks rather than to any specific marketing action.
Again, while new technology enables this, it should apply equally to all communication, from social media to TV to events to POS. Unfortunately, most of the effort has focused on new media without regard to where the bulk of marketing budgets still go and therefore there has been much sound and fury about metrics, signifying very little.
Error and Confusion
Just as we use quantum mechanics to create devices that enhance the Newtonian world of everyday experience, digital media still interacts with humans who are very much like those that roamed the earth a decade ago.
What’s amazing is that, for all the talk about the coming dominance of digital media, there has been so little effect on how we consume and market with traditional media. Part of this is due to the hubris of many of those involved in digital media, who know so little about other areas and don’t seem to care and part is because so much confusion still reigns.
In either case, an increasingly digitized media landscape is opening the door to insights about how we can market holistically. Therefore, the challenge for new media is not only to innovate forward, but also to integrate back. A truly new paradigm would need to apply to atoms as well as bits.
There are no clear answers yet, but it’s time we started asking the right questions. As Francis Bacon once said: “Truth emerges more readily from error than confusion”